Imprisoned by Technology — Are we Hamsters in Simulators?

We have always had technology beginning with the flint and axe and early adopters have often reaped the rewards. Thanks to technology much of the modern world gained access to clean water abundant food and we are now able to communicate freely and widely. We can go into a library for nothing with our children, find a special book. Technology helped us of course but most of the devices we used like pens, engines, electricity, pulleys and presses came with a personal experience.

Sadly technologies of today are undoing centuries of work and human interaction. We are polluting the water, destroying the land, we are awash with disorders of the mind, we are contacting without communicating, and our new vast library, the Internet consumes most of our waking hours as we live vicariously through others and their stories.

It seems that our minds are full but we are no longer mindful. Without silence, space and time for reflection, physical interaction with people we love and admire, the part of us that imagines, dreams, explores questions — is dulled, and in many cases tuned out.

Watch at your next meeting for those who cannot stay away from their mobile in the event they might miss something. They simply don't follow the conversation merely the anecdotes. Like magpies we are too often attracted by shiny objects. The art of discourse is dying so fast and all we can do is have endless workshops at vast cost to understand in some cases the simplest of business problems.

Many of us twiddle with technology like a sixth finger, at lightning speed and rarely question the many random tasks we achieve each day. As long as we are ticking the boxes off our to-do list we think we are making progress. 

It seems we are using technology to arrange the world so we don't have to experience it.

You can order your cheeseburger or chow mein without ever interacting with a human being. There are apps that will automatically wish your friends a happy birthday so you never need to think warm thoughts of them again.

Work as I observe is beginning to look like running on a hamster wheel. No less busy than before, rather less meaningful and certainly the quality of output tends to be iterative versus something truly new. 

Finding something new I feel is taking too long. People don't seem to have any thoughtful time with their technology distractions and an insatiable desire to know a little about everything consumes their waking hours. Your dog these days could well have more clarity of thought and purpose than you do.

Without sustained attention, we fail to feed our personalities, and so they shrink away in isolation from the world. Somehow the rich world of experience is not being shared offline. Everything is a click away from sex to sneakers.

The implicit promise is that these new efficiencies will make life easier and we will have more time to live. But that day never comes. Instead we are having our food bought in, so often eating alone, watching streaming movies to avoid the pain of meeting friends at the cinema and suddenly this frictionless existence means we are no longer truly living despite all this efficiency.

American record producer DJ Khaled is notorious for broadcasting each moment of his day to day life. So far it has cost him $80,000USD for broadcasting credit card information, among other things.

American record producer DJ Khaled is notorious for broadcasting each moment of his day to day life. So far it has cost him $80,000USD for broadcasting credit card information, among other things.

Now you can broadcast anything you see any time to the entire planet. My worry is that in recording and sharing so much of our lives we’re neglecting to actually live them. Many of us may well be living in a simulator and not know it. The big question is, can technology save us? The answer is no, because we are a tool making species and not ourselves tools, I hope we’ll soon get this, before its to late. Machines can help to change our circumstances but they cannot reflect on value or morality.

Technology cannot do ethics. Drone attacks are never overridden by software with a social conscience. Wouldn't that be nice.

The ideal scenario is where the online and the off-line collaborate to make things better. I am highly disappointed at the moment that there is very little conversation going on. We are literally on the brink of making this planet uninhabitable. Destroying environments to the point where we have environmental vandalism, dressed in drag as mass tourism or infant formula being traded off against polluting rivers, the excesses are all around us.

There’s a global war on terrorism but nowhere near the same war on eco-vandalism.

It seems we need more pain to change our political will and without ethics we have little chance. Technologies can really help a lot by providing a more intelligent way to consume less. But at present I feel we are using technology to do the reverse.

Until we stop our desire to buy that T-shirt or that Yoghurt that cost so little, without someone or some environment suffering, this ground up movement for change will continue to splutter. Of course those that benefit from the status quo will likely battle against progressive change, as their lives depend on it. But consider the positive mood where we are now just beginning to pay more for cars because they use less fuel or none at all, however, we are still not yet at that major life-changing tipping point.

A man shovels up oil on a section of beach about a mile east of the Refugio oil spill in California, May 2015.

A man shovels up oil on a section of beach about a mile east of the Refugio oil spill in California, May 2015.

The funny thing about technology, it brings you gifts in one hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.

‘You cannot endow even the best machine with initiative; the jolliest steamroller will not plant flowers.’
—Walter Lippman